Preview: Miami embracing perceived underdog status in NCAA Tournament matchup with Loyola-Chicago


TIME: 3:10 p.m.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Miami may be going into the NCAA Tournament as the No. 6 seed in the South Region, but its first-round opponent, 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago, seems to be getting the most love from basketball prognosticators.

“I noticed that,” coach Jim Larranaga said Tuesday before he and his Hurricanes boarded buses for the trip to the airport and their afternoon charter flight to Dallas, the site of Thursday afternoon’s matchup.

Not that he is complaining.

“I think they deserve the recognition they’re getting,” he said of the Ramblers, who are 28-5 after adding the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship to their resume following their regular-season conference title. “I just think it shows a little bit of disrespect for us and the ACC that people must not think we’re any good.”

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Larranaga’s Hurricanes are 22-9 and ranked No. 22 in the country despite losing their only appearance in the Atlantic Coast Conference tourney to 10th-ranked North Carolina, a No. 2 seed in the West Region.

Is the perceived “snub” extra motivation for his team?

“It is to me,” Larranaga said. “I think we’re now the underdog. People are picking them. We need to embrace that.”

Apparently, the Miami players are.

Sophomore forward Dewan Huell said the approach they are taking for their fourth consecutive NCAA appearance — matching a program-best streak — is to “have fun with it and embrace the moment, just go out there with a chip on our back because a lot of people have us losing this first game. We want to prove them wrong.”

The Hurricanes, who were ranked as high as No. 6 in the country in December but slipped after entering conference play and fell out of the Top 25 completely after losing three in a row following the foot injury to sophomore guard Bruce Brown, are used to that.

“It isn’t the first time somebody has slept on us,” Huell said. “We just are going to prove them wrong like always.”

Huell said he thinks the Hurricanes’ trip through the ACC schedule — they finished third with an 11-7 record despite Brown’s absence — has prepared them for what they face against Loyola.

The Ramblers are a balanced squad with five players averaging in double figures topped by junior guard Clayton Cluster’s 13.4 average. He is one of six Ramblers shooting 37 percent or better from 3-point range and earned MVC Player of the Year honors despite missing five games to an ankle injury.

“I’ve watched Miami a couple of times,” Cluster said. “They’re going to try to get out and run, and they’re going to be long and athletic.”

The Ramblers, who won the 1963 national championship, are making their first NCAA appearance since 1985 but don’t appear intimidated by the hoopla that surrounds “March Madness.”

“These guys want this stage,” coach Porter Moser, who is in his seventh season at Loyola, said. “I love that about them.”

Loyola has gone 17-1 since Cluster returned from his injury. Miami is 7-4 without Brown, who will be in uniform in Dallas but will not play, Larranaga said.

The winner of their first-round game will face the winner of Tennessee-Wright State in Saturday’s second round.